The East Kootenay Regional Hospital (EKRH) serves a large and diverse population, many of which face the same health-related trials and tribulations that cause hardship and heartache in larger centres. These illnesses include breast cancer, which will affect one in nine women in the region and take the life of one out of every 29 women.
The health care professionals who treat the residents of the East Kootenay region are second to none — indeed, many of the finest nurses, diagnosticians, clinicians, general practitioners and surgeons live here. However, their ability to treat patients is sometimes limited by essential equipment — and lack thereof. Unfortunately, even equipment that is deemed necessary might not be in the immediate health care budget, and it is up to others to find a way to bridge the gap in care.
The East Kootenay Foundation of Health (EKFH) has rolled out the largest public campaign in the organization’s history in order to fill a significant gap. In October, EKFH began a two-year, $1 million fundraising effort for the purchase of a digital stereotactic mammography machine for the EKRH. The endeavour is one that is fully endorsed by the medical staff at the hospital.
Radiologist Julie Nicol is often on the front end of breast cancer diagnosis. Nicol said that the analog unit currently being used at the hospital is so out-of-date that attachments to upgrade the technology are no longer an option, and that a complete replacement of the equipment with state-of-the-art digital imagery capabilities is essential to early diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer.
“The equipment we have is still good in that we can still diagnose breast cancer,” said Nicol. “However, with digital technology, we can get away with doing fewer film views with less radiation and less breast compression, and the diagnosis is a little more sensitive.”
Nicol said that digital mammography also means faster, more accurate analysis of results, which in turn means that X-ray-guided (stereotactic) biopsies can often be performed the same day as discovery, eliminating harrowing wait times for patients. On the other hand, patients requiring digital mammography are currently sent to other centres such as Calgary, Kamloops or Nelson, where Nicol described the wait times as “significant.”
“This option reduces the chance of any patient being left behind,” she said.
Dr. Peter Chong is a general surgeon at the East Kootenay Regional Hospital who has performed numerous procedures on breast cancer patients. Chong believes that acquiring a digital stereotactic mammography machine is the last piece of the puzzle in terms of giving regional patients the best holistic breast cancer care available, close to home.
“It’s the only service, other than radiation therapy, that we’re missing,” said Chong. “Not only is that important in terms of saving patients travel costs and hassle, it also reduces the risk of patients getting surgery that they might not otherwise get if this technology were available, because the only other alternative to a stereotactic biopsy is a surgical biopsy.”
Chong added that risk of complications and recovery times are both reduced with the stereotactic surgery, which is better for the patient and for overall health care costs. There is virtually no incision, the need for general anesthetic is often lessened, and post-operative care for the patient is usually easier to manage.
In 2009, the EKFH’s Starlite Campaign for Excellence in Health Care brought in significant funds for the purchase of a sentinel node biopsy probe for the EKRH surgical team.
“Digital stereotactic mammography completes the diagnostic management of breast disease while the sentinel node probe has completed the surgical management of breast disease,” said Chong. “We have been using it fairly regularly to reduce the complication rate from breast surgery such as pain, numbness, and lymphedema in the arm and armpit.”
A Clear View—a Digital Mammography Campaign officially began Oct. 2. For more information, please visit www.aclearview.ca or call 250-489-6481 or 1-877-489-6481).
— EAST KOOTENAY FOUNDATION FOR HEALTH